April 30, 2015 10:46 AM EDT

The number of infants born in the U.S. with drug withdrawal symptoms is growing rapidly, a new study shows.

The percentage of babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), which has been linked to illegal drug or prescription opioid use in pregnant women, nearly doubled between 2009 and 2012, according to a Vanderbilt study published in the Journal of Perinatology.

By 2012, one infant was born every 25 minutes with the syndrome, leading to $1.5 billion in yearly health care charges, the study found.

Through examining data from the Kids’ Inpatient Database and the Nationwide Inpatient Sample, the study found that the occurrence of NAS in the U.S. rose from 3.4 births per 1,000 to 5.8 births per 1,000 between 2009 and 2012.

The study also found that NAS rates varied across the country. “The rise in neonatal abstinence syndrome mirrors the rise we have seen in opioid pain reliever use across the nation. Our study finds that communities hardest hit by opioid use and their complications, like overdose death, have the highest rates of the NAS,” lead author Stephen Patrick, assistant professor of pediatrics and health policy in the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, said in a press release. The area with the highest rate of NAS in 2012, 16.2 births per 1,000, was the region that includes Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama.

William Cooper, Cornelius Vanderbilt professor of pediatrics and health policy and the senior author for the study, called the rise of NAS “a growing public health problem.”

Being born with NAS makes infants more likely to have respiratory problems, difficulty feeding, seizures and low birth weight.

Write to Tessa Berenson at tessa.berenson@time.com.

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